Starting Step 1 – The Lie Must Die

at a meeting
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This is the first step in recovery. The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

To begin with, when a person is starting recovery, the minimizing and denial must stop! One of the struggles that many have in early recovery is this idea that I have problems and I am going a little overboard, but I am “not that bad” (not a serious alcoholic or a serious addict). In other words I am fairly normal, but I am just overdoing it a bit.

In one story located in the Alcoholics Anonymous book there are two examples of what this looks like…

We told him what we knew about alcoholism. He was interested and conceded that he had some of the symptoms, but he was a long way from admitting that he could do nothing about it himself. He was positive that this humiliating experience, plus the knowledge he had acquired, would keep him sober the rest of his life. Self-knowledge would fix it. (Alcoholics Anonymous pgs 39-40)

We first saw Fred about a year ago in a hospital where he had gone to recover from a bad case of jitters. It was his first experience of this kind, and he was much ashamed of it. Far from admitting he was an alcoholic, he told himself he came to the hospital to rest his nerves. The doctor intimated strongly that he might be worse than he realized. For a few days he was depressed about his condition. He made up his mind to quit drinking altogether. It never occurred to him that perhaps he could not do so, in spite of his character and standing. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 39)

These are both excerpts from the same story, but both descriptions come from the observations of the members who were trying to work with him. Listen to how Fred himself describes this (after his big relapse):

“I was much impressed with what you fellows said about alcoholism, and I frankly did not believe it would be possible for me to drink again. I rather appreciated your ideas about the subtle insanity which precedes the first drink, but I was confident it could not happen to me after what I had learned. I reasoned I was not so far advanced as most of you fellows, that I had been usually successful in licking my other personal problems, and that I would therefore be successful where you men failed. I felt I had every right to be self-confident, that it would be only a matter of exercising my will power and keeping on guard. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 40)

This mindset says; “All that recovery stuff you are telling me is interesting, but I am not so bad that I need to do all that.” That is often a lie and it tells a person that he or she can just pay attention to what he or she is comfortable hearing. “If it’s something I find uncomfortable or I don’t like it, I can just ignore it because all of that is for people who are worse off than me” (like the person or people talking to me).

On page 568 of the Alcoholics Anonymous book states that:

Willingness, honest and open-mindedness are the essentials of recovery. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 568)

Let’s look at this kind of thinking and all how it resists these three essential mindsets:

  1. WILLINGNESS = If a person is suddenly faced with the reality that he or she is a serious alcoholic or addict and a person comes who not only offers a solution but is living it comes along it would seem like the reasonable choice to make is to try to do whatever that person does. That would also imply that if there are parts that you do differently than that person, then you will clearly get different results. The more you choose NOT to do, the more different your results. Are you willing to do exactly what that person did to try to get exactly the same results?
  2. HONESTY = In the case of Fred, in the story discussed above, he was in the hospital being confronted by doctors and others with similar problems who were diagnosing him as pretty advanced in his alcoholism. Even though he knew he had lost control to some degree and it had clearly led to some problems, he somehow convinces himself that he is more of an expert than the doctors, addicts, alcoholics and anyone else that might have tried to tell him differently. At what point does a person move from misled to flat out lying to himself or herself? Recovery requires being brutally honest with yourself and working to fix whatever problems are observed.
  3. Open-Mindedness = Even if it is hard to swallow, when both experts and people who have had the same experiences agree that your problem might be worse than you think it is, you should probably assume you might be wrong and they might be right. If a person who is not really an addict were to do all of the things an advanced user has to do to achieve sobriety, that person will still get many benefits (or at the least does no real harm). On the other hand, if a person who is an advanced level alcoholic or addict doesn’t do the things it takes to get sober the problem worsens. Lying to yourself is part of alcoholism and addiction and an open mind is a must if you are to get past it.

A person who is still driven by the lie that he or she is not as bad as the facts show clearly, or who knows it is a problem but justifies it by picking someone and saying, “At least I’m not as bad as that,” is failing to work the first step. No matter what that person says, writes, does etc. as long as that mindset persists, the lie will win and at some point tell that person it is okay to use again.


The delusion that we are like other people, or presently may be, has to be smashed. (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 30)

Getting Freedom, Happiness, and Other Promises from the Twelve Steps

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)

Wow, “new freedom and a new happiness.”  On the next page this paragraph goes on to promise “we will know peace” and many more great things.  Those of us who have been around the 12 Step rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous have probably heard these promises a few times. 

The part that most people tend to miss is summed up best by the first word of the paragraph:  “If”.  These things are promised “if”, but if what?  The answer is “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development”, but that is not really the answer either as it leaves us with another question:  What is “this phase of our development”?  The use of the word “this” means that without knowing what is going on in the paragraphs and pages before this paragraph we cannot know truly what you need to do to get what is promised. 

The paragraph basically says:

If THIS then the PROMISES – If you do not know what “this” is, then you have no real idea how it is telling you to get those promises.  So, what are the preceding paragraphs and pages discussing?

Let’s begin with the paragraph before this one:

There may be some wrongs we can never fully right. We don’t worry about them if we can honestly say to ourselves that we would right them if we could. Some people cannot be seen – we send them an honest letter. And there may be a valid reason for postponement in some cases. But we don’t delay if it can be avoided.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)

Righting wrongs is what you do in Step 9 and that is the context.  On page 76 you arrive at Steps 8 and 9 and you do not move on to Step 10 until page 84 where you encounter the words “This thought brings us to Step Ten…”

If you are not completely familiar with the Steps, Step 9 is:

Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg. 59)

But the passage didn’t just say if you work Step 9 you can expect these promises in your life, the passage says that you have to be “painstaking about” it.  If you are painstaking about working the Ninth Step you can have an expectation of these promises (such as freedom, happiness, peace etc.) before you are even halfway through with making your amends.

The only thing left to do to truly understand what this paragraph is really saying is to define the word “painstaking.”  According to WordNetWeb from Princeton University:

Painstaking = characterized by extreme care and great effort; “conscientious application to the work at hand”; “painstaking research”; “scrupulous attention to details”

So if you make amends exerting great effort to make them and taking great care to make them all and in detail then you can expect some wonderful things to happen such as freedom, happiness, peace, freedom from fear, freedom from fear of the past and more.  You can actually expect these things to happen to you before you are even half way done.

So get over regret of the past and wanting to just forget the past (shut the door on it) and face your past.  An unresolved past secretly affects you every day which means it is not really your past; it is your present that is trying to destroy your future.  Painstakingly work it through as described by Steps 8 and 9 and you:

…will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.  (Alcoholics Anonymous pg 83)